September 10, 2013

San Francisco: "Crime Doesn't Climb"

Gordon Wintrob writes:
Among San Francisco's diverse neighborhoods and varied micro-climates, we've heard the phrase "Crime Doesn't Climb," meaning that the city's loftier areas are often associated with less crime. San Francisco, sometimes refered to as the "homeless capital of the United States", ranks in the bottom 10% of safest cities in the country (New York City is nearly three times safer). Although certain neighborhoods (e.g. the Tenderloin) have particularly high crime rates, we wondered if there was more granular data that could answer the question: does crime climb?

Former mayor Gavin Newsome put huge amounts of city data online as part of his technocratic philosophy of government. This doesn't seem to have done much good yet in the real world, but it's been great for moneyballers like Wintrob, who determined that, indeed, crime doesn't climb.

I've never heard the phrase "crime doesn't climb" in Los Angeles, but it nicely sums up several generations of Californian thinking about real estate. (One reason Charles Manson is still notorious 44 years after his minions murdered Roman Polanski's wife in the Hollywood Hills is that it was shocking that crime did climb that time.)

Of course, there's a high degree of self-fulfilling prophecy about the Californian belief that crime doesn't climb. In Rio de Janeiro, in contrast, crime does climb into the hillside favelas, while the rich live along the beach.

Yet, as technology continues to get the upper hand over criminals, most gentrification energies in L.A. remain focused on hilly areas, even though hills detract from that 21st Century buzzword: Walkability. (Among other reasonable reasons walkability is desired, the huge crackdown on drunk driving over the last generation means that it's nice to live somewhere where you can walk home after a drink.) Hills are even worse for bicycle riding.

At some point, there will be a phase change away from the inconvenient heights and living in the flats will come into fashion. Prescient investors will make fortunes. Remember, however, as Keynes liked to say, the markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

38 comments:

eah said...

...meaning that the city's loftier areas are often associated with less crime.

Talk about reporting the obvious...

The same is true of the Peninsula, eg Redwood City (to name just one city on the Peninsula) -- everyone knows there are some pretty crappy neighborhoods in the flatlands going down toward the Bay, but the hills are generally very nice. And very White and Asian.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are not taking into account the solar power revolution taking place right now. In twenty years (due to the solar panel equivalent of Moore's Law, whatever it is) everyone will likely have rooftop solar and their electric cars will be powered from this energy supply.

People who can afford to live in hills will still be able to afford vehicular transport. Flatlands don't have views. Waterfront is waterfront and should not be compared to regular flatland.

David M. said...

High elevation also results in good views, which also encourages the development of expensive single family homes. It doesn't result in expensive high rise apartments, because they don't need elevation for good views. These areas are also developed later than low-lying areas, and so are less dense. They also have irregular shaped plots with elevation challenges, so they result in more yard space.

Even in a city where crime and schools are not the deciding dynamic (i.e. most of Europe), you will still find that families who aren't so interested in nightlife and who can afford a car often find living in the hills quite an attractive prospect, for all these reasons.

Anonymous said...

Getty vs Ghetto
UCLA vs USC
Clueless vs Boys in the Hood

Big Bill said...

The other factor I would be curious about are SF bus routes.

Crime doesn't climb. It also doesn't walk.

Do the bus routes flow around the base of the hills? Do they go up and down from the valleys to the peaks and back down again?

Anonymous said...

Music by Jerome MacKern
Lyrics by Oscar MacHammerstein the IInd
As song by the part-Maori, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Someday, we'll build a home on a hilltop high,
You and I,
Shiny and new, a cottage that two can fill.
And we'll be pleased to be called,
"The Folks who Live on the Hill".

Someday we may be adding a thing or two,
A wing or two.
We will make changes, as any family will,
But we will always be called,
"The Folks who Live on the Hill".

Our veranda will command a view of meadows green,
The sort of view that seems to want to be seen.
And when the kids grow up and leave us,
We'll sit and look at that same old view,
Just we two.

Darby and Joan, who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
"The Folks who Live on the Hill".

Our veranda will command a view of meadows green,
The sort of view that seems to want to be seen.
But when the kids grow up and leave us,
We'll sit and look at that same old view,
Just we two.

Darby and Joan, who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
"The Folks who Live on the Hill".

Anonymous said...

It appears that the app "Ghetto Tracker" is long gone. I always thought TripAdvisor should have a system of self-assessing personal safety at the various locations in their database.

JSM said...

"Steve, you are not taking into account the solar power revolution taking place right now. In twenty years (due to the solar panel equivalent of Moore's Law, whatever it is) everyone will likely have rooftop solar and their electric cars will be powered from this energy supply."

Hey, that's great to hear!

Me, I'm 50. I can remember at age 8 being told that solar power and fusion were a mere 20 to 50 years away. Now I'm being told they are only 20 to 50 years away.


Solar power and fusion are 20 to 50 years away -- and always will be.

Erik L said...

Once we have self driving cars you'll be able to drink anywhere again

Anonymous said...

I think San Fran is tied in a lot of crime stats with LA and Anaheim and Santa Ana. People usually prefer San Fran even if there is more break ins since its not the gang banger crime like La, Anaheim and Santa Ana. Murder rate is similar to LA and Anaheim maybe sometimes lower than Santa Ana.

candid_observer said...

Jeez, would it be hard to use relevant data to control for affluence of a neighborhood, and see if there's any remaining effect of the elevation per se?

I suppose it might be that the data has not been so organized and compiled that this is easy to do (perhaps deliberately, of course). Yet nothing should be simpler to run through a statistics program and crank out a result.

Of course, this is most likely just a case of the dumber we are, the dumber we get.

Anonymous said...

One more buzz word is depreciation. As housing stock gets older a choice presents itself. Fix up or start fresh. Although you see grand conspiracies behind people moving to the suburbs and back, an alternate view is people looked at the cost of bringing their lead painted asbestos lined architectural jewel up to modern plumbing and electrical standards and just decided to put up a boring new building on empty space outside of town.

When the suburbs got old demolishing a tenement in the city and building a new apartment building seemed like a good idea. Even renovating old buildings in the city looked like a good idea as you could now justify ripping everything out and starting with the wood frame (aka bones).

In desirable areas, older houses are sold as tear downs, but that can only occur in stable wealthy areas like silicon valley. For the middle class you mostly have to move.

Power Child said...

As a visual display, that graph could be much improved.

Here's my version.

pat said...

In ancient Rome in the insulae - the multi story apartment buildings - the cheapest units were at the top. The most expensive units were on the ground floor.

The main reason for this was stairs rather than elevators. But another consideration was that some of the best units had access to city water and city sewers. The poor units on top had to carry up whatever water they used in jars.

All that reversed with better plumbing and elevators.

In Oakland we have a strong climb above crime effect. Without the automobile few would want to live where I live. But just as we now have elevators we also have cars. Elevation becomes attractive with modern technology.

Look at this crime map:
http://www.spotcrime.com/ca/oakland
All the flatlands are black areas. Above Route 13 the hills are all white. But Route 13 is the Hayward Fault which is now five years overdue to slip. All those crime prone black people down the hill live on Bay Fill. When the Big One hits later this year (best guess) they will probably start climbing the hills to get to the relatively undisturbed hill tops.

I'll probably post a video in my "Disturbing Ideas" series about this phenomenon in about a month.

Albertosaurus

Anthony said...

San Francisco proper is not a good example for "crime doesn't climb", or as I've heard it "shit runs downhill". There are plenty of housing projects up in the hills *in* San Francisco, yielding crime hotspots at higher elevations.

Most of the rest of the inner Bay Area would show the pattern much more strongly than does San Francisco.

Technical note - the post you link does normalize for land area at higher elevation, but doesn't normalize for population density at higher elevation. I suspect you'd still see the pattern, but it would be again somewhat weaker.

Anonymous said...

In the East SF Bay crime climbs for a simple reason: Mexicans are painters, lawn mowers, and roofers. While they go about their low pay low skill jobs they are watching people come and go between jobs and homes. A week to a month after they finish their day job, laborers often return to steal from homes they know will be empty. Many of them know how defeat burglar alarms because they installed them.

Thomas said...

The East Bay is an even starker example of this, for the most part, having long been divided between "the hills" and "the flats" or "the bottoms." As notorious as Oakland is, many of the hilly or semi-hilly neighborhoods (Montclair, Rockridge, Oakmore, Maxwell Park, Redwood Heights, etc.) are safely middle-class and some areas (the independent town of Piedmont, for example) are upper-class, with mid-seven-figure homes that have the coveted "five bridge view" of the Bay. The same is true of Berkeley, whose hills have expensive homes where many associated with the University (which is also in the hills) live. It's the broad flatlands of West and East Oakland that are the war zone. Robberies and murders that would barely rate a mention if they happen in the flats cause talk of a "crime wave" when they happen in the hills.

Anonymous said...

Elysium effect.

Anonymous said...

We need 'progressive' relocation.

Move poorest into richest areas inhabited by likes of Lucas and Gates.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that in Latin American cities it seems to be the opposite, e.g. the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. You'd think that rich people would love the great views from those hills. In highland cities like La Paz and Quito perhaps it's that the air is insalubriously thin?

Anonymous said...

Others have made a similar point, but the key correlation here is wealth: the nicest and most expensive areas in SanFo are also the highest elevation: Russian, Nob and Telegraph hills, plus PacHeights and Seacliff. In fact, with the arguable exception of some of the new condo developments in the NE corner of SOMA, the only fancy neighborhood not at a high elevation is St. Francis Wood.

Twin Peaks is even higher than that but very middle class—to the extent that anything in SanFo is middle class anymore. That is to say, the housing stock is mostly undistinguished (unlike the grandeur of PacHeights).

The crime map that other blogger linked is totally unsurprising, the crime is where you’d expect it to be: Tenderloin, Fillmore, Potrero, Bayview, Hunters Point, the Mission, Hayes Valley. The only big surprise was that it identifies the southwest quarter of the city, where the Olympic Club is, as high crime. Really?

Also, not that this is unexpected either, but some of the safest neighborhoods according that map—outer Richmond and Sunset—are quite flat. But they are very sleepy and heavily white and Asian (Chinese).

Anonymous said...

Oh, also, it is not true that there are no tall apt buildings at high elevations. In fact, all of the very nicest apartment buildings in SF are at high elevations. Rincon Hill, SOMA, which was once a wasteland, is now getting the luxury high rise treatment.

Nob and Russian Hills are like the UES and UWS for fancy apartments and there are some humdingers of grand buildings in PacHeights on Broadway, Washington, Vallejo, etc.

Anonymous said...

The Folks Who Live On The Hill

Nelson Riddle Orchestra
Nelson Riddle arranges
Sinatra conducts
Peggy Lee sings

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=---Uh2ctBcA

el supremo said...

"In twenty years (due to the solar panel equivalent of Moore's Law, whatever it is) everyone will likely have rooftop solar "

Solar has sadly seen nowhere near Moore's Law levels of growth in efficiency. Production of panels is cheaper today, and energy conversion rates are higher, but neither are at revolutionary levels, and if you stripped out subsidies and low cost equipment due to Chinese dumping the gains are less impressive.

Traditionally scientists have argued that there is a ceiling of around 35% in solar conversion rates, so absent any new technology breakthroughs any further major gains in solar power are limited to new patterns of installation and subsidies, which reduces solar's potential to transform things.

E. Rekshun said...

@JSM: "Me, I'm 50. I can remember at age 8 being told that solar power and fusion were a mere 20 to 50 years away. Now I'm being told they are only 20 to 50 years away. Solar power and fusion are 20 to 50 years away -- and always will be."

So true.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Walkability is not actually important to people. Views are.

Anonymous said...

"It's interesting that in Latin American cities it seems to be the opposite, e.g. the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. You'd think that rich people would love the great views from those hills. In highland cities like La Paz and Quito perhaps it's that the air is insalubriously thin?"

Steve has addressed this issue before.

White women have pregnancy problems at higher elevations. Too many miscarriages. Which is the primary reason for the Latin American elites favor of lowlands and valleys.

Anonymous said...

I had an English friend (in red state America) who thought our culture of driving to bars was bizarre.

He said that in England it didn't matter how small of a town you were in--if there was one village pub, well, everyone walked to the one village pub. You didn't decide where to "go out."


Los Angeles on the other hand...

typical conversation over lunch in Santa Monica:


"There's a party tonight!"

"Where?"

"Silver Lake!"

or Koreatown or in the valley or irvine or seattle or hawaii...

Anonymous said...

Solar power and fusion are 20 to 50 years away -- and always will be.

You might actually read up on the subject. 10-fold increase in 2 years in Australia. Google the price/watt history for solar (PV). It keeps dropping year after year, for much the same reason that price/GFLOP has kept dropping in computing. Bigger production, bigger fabs, wringing more efficiency gains. All powered by consumer demand. Look at both graphs with a logarithmic Y axis, it's linear down through decades.

There is plenty of room to grow as well. At the moment the most efficient commercial panels are only 20% efficient. But efficiency is only one aspect, the cost is more important. And with more production, the price keeps dropping of all components, and the systems keep improving.

Solar is a very real business. There are multiple companies out there earning real dollars from transacting with real consumers. Costs have dropped from $76/watt in 1976 to $0.74 in 2013. Fusion is confined to expensive government-funded big science/engineering type projects. It is nowhere near self-sustaining.

See also here. The future is now.

Charlesz Martel said...

White people in those cities can't reproduce too well at high altitutudes. That's why the Indians live high, and whites in valleys, on contrast TI most of the world. I think Steve covered this 10 years ago or so.

ironrailsironweights said...

Me, I'm 50. I can remember at age 8 being told that solar power and fusion were a mere 20 to 50 years away. Now I'm being told they are only 20 to 50 years away.
Solar power and fusion are 20 to 50 years away -- and always will be.


A couple of weeks ago a huge food warehouse in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia burned down, jeopardizing 150 jobs (the company says it'll try to find work at other facilities, but who knows). When the firefighters arrived on the scene the fire was confined to the roof area and capable of being extinguished with little damage. Unfortunately, the rooftop solar panels were energized and made it impossible for the firefighters to go onto the roof.

Peter

ironrailsironweights said...

It's interesting that in Latin American cities it seems to be the opposite, e.g. the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. You'd think that rich people would love the great views from those hills. In highland cities like La Paz and Quito perhaps it's that the air is insalubriously thin?

White women have pregnancy problems at higher elevations. Too many miscarriages. Which is the primary reason for the Latin American elites favor of lowlands and valleys.

That wouldn't be an issue in Rio, or anywhere else in Brazil, as the highest elevations aren't all that high.

Peter

Anonymous said...


In the East SF Bay crime climbs for a simple reason: Mexicans are painters, lawn mowers, and roofers. While they go about their low pay low skill jobs they are watching people come and go between jobs and homes. A week to a month after they finish their day job, laborers often return to steal from homes they know will be empty. Many of them know how defeat burglar alarms because they installed them.


This is absolutely true. My father lives in the Oakland hills and has been burglarized twice by Mexicans (the first time, they were caught and arrested; the second time, they were seen by neighbors) on occasions that he left town. Though I have no proof it, I am certain that he was targeted by someone working in the neighborhood, as there are always Mexican gardeners and other workers in the neighborhood by day.

Anonymous said...


Look at this crime map:
http://www.spotcrime.com/ca/oakland
All the flatlands are black areas.


Not exactly. West Oakland is still majority black, but the east Oakland flatlands are now majority hispanic. The blacker areas of east Oakland are now in the far east Oakland hills and foothills.

Anonymous said...

"I had an English friend (in red state America) who thought our culture of driving to bars was bizarre."

It IS bizarre. Either we subject ourselves to the possibility of draconian legal penalties for drinking and driving or we abstain from actually having more than a couple of drinks and enjoying ourselves. It's absurd and awful.

Los Angeles, where I live, is absolutely the worst city in this regard. I rarely go anywhere other than the one neighborhood bar which I can walk to because I don't want to run the risk of getting a huge fine and my driver's license revoked for a year. To top it off, taxis here are expensive and few and far between.

Whitehall said...

Marin County was always cool to public transit to anywhere except the Financial District in the City. They certainly didn't want anything to do with BART.

Golden Gate Transit has only limited routes that focus on commuters - no express runs from Hunters Point to Ross or Kentfield, for example.

I selected my places of residence in Mill Valley based on the stagger distances to the 2am Club or the the Sweetwater so being in range of a watering hole has long been a real consideration for many of us.

Now that I'm in San Jose, bars seem rare things - one drives to Los Gatos or Saratoga for convivial intoxicants.

Power Child said...

Why do people go to bars? Can someone explain the reasoning?

Alcohol can be much more comfortably and inexpensively consumed at home, and the single women who frequent bars aren't usually top shelf picks either.

I guess I could see it if your home isn't somewhere you'd want to hang out--like if you're a hoarder or something--and if you actually like crappy music being blasted so loud you have to scream into the ear of the person sitting next to you, and if you're unable to attract any women except those road-hardened girls with tramp stamps and venereal disease, and if you have the kind of money where you don't mind spending $4.50 for a bottle of Bud Lite.

But do most people at bars actually meet these criteria?

Personally, I like being able to walk to CVS or the local burrito joint, but bars present one LESS reason to care about "walkability."

Anonymous said...

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